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Peveril of the Peak (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2007

    'Here is a plot without a drop of blood'

    Why do people read a great poet and novelist like Sir Walter Scott? *** Some read Scott for the story and colorful characters, others as introduction to history. And many for Scott's wild, romantic landscapes. His early poems had made the hitherto almost impenetrable Trossachs of Scotland an instant must for European travelers. And in PEVERIL OF THE PEAK, Sir Walter did a similar even-handed, colorful bit for English tourism. *** The novel's first page locates us in Central England's Derbyshire and its Peak District. We are told the history of Peveril Castle dating from the Norman Conquest. We see it impregnably positioned overlooking the village of Castleton and England's greatest cavern. Scott tells us of its playing out mines. He shows us impoverished, easily stirred up miners of the 1670s. *** In another locale the hero, young Julian Peveril, serves as page of the widowed Catholic Duchess of the Isle of Man. His Lady sends him with a packet of dangerous messages via Liverpool to London and the Court of Charles II. This is 1678, an hysterical time in England as the charlatan Titus Oates and his lying witnesses send many innocent men to their deaths for alleged involvement in a non-existent Papist plot to massacre Protestants and overthrow the King. *** PEVERIL OF THE PEAK is the second Walter Scott novel to deal with King Charles II. In WOODSTOCK young Charles Stuart was on the run in 1651 from Oliver Cromwell after the battle of Worcester, with novel's end portraying his triumphant return from France in 1660. Charles II is not much of a King, easy-going, pleasure-seeking, quickly diverted from business. But he is courteous, elegant and intelligent enough to be aghast at Titus Oates's evil doings. He tells his great chum the Duke of Buckingham, '...the nation is in a scarlet fever for fear of the poor Catholics, who are not two men to five hundred ... ' Ch. 31. *** But only late in the story does the King cautiously and behind the scenes intervene on behalf of his loyal supporters, the Peverils father and son, to assure a 'not guilty' verdict on charges of treason. *** At novel's end the King sums up a devilishly complicated, melodramatic story line: ' ... would ... that all our political intrigues and feverish alarms could terminate as harmlessly as now. Here is a plot without a drop of blood and all the elements of a romance, without its conclusion. Here we have a wandering island princess, ... a dwarf, a Moorish sorceress, an impenitent rogue, and a repentant man of rank, and yet all ends without either hanging or marriage' Ch 49. *** This is not Walter Scott at his best. But his merely good is better than many writers' best. -OOO-

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